UK employers plan crackdown on employee use of social networking sites at work

The majority of UK businesses plan to monitor or limit employee access to social networking sites, following increased concerns over their impact on productivity at work, according to new research.

A survey of 361 IT decision makers commissioned by Personneltoday.com’s sister site ComputerWeekly.com found that two-thirds of businesses that allow access to sites such as ­Facebook and MySpace plan to monitor or limit staff access to them, with 11% aiming to ban access at work completely in the next six months.

Worryingly, companies are more concerned about employees wasting company time and lost productivity (50%) than security (17%) or damage to reputation (3%), according to the survey.

IT managers estimated that employees spend an average of 50 minutes on social networking sites per day. This rose to 56 minutes among those companies allowing unlimited access, and 62 minutes among London-based companies.

And almost half of IT managers said workloads have increased as a result of policing social networking sites, while 35% said e-mail servers were under increased pressure from incoming e-mails from these sources.

Rob Koplowitz, principal analyst at Forrester Research, which conducted the survey, said businesses allowing unrestricted access (37%) must be aware of potential security and reputation threats, and advised companies to develop strong acceptable-use policies.

“Unsanctioned employee use opens up a Pandora’s box of security risks, including customer data being leaked outside the firewall,” he said. Koplowitz advised businesses to audit unofficial use of social networking sites and educate users in how to use them without exposing the company to security threats.

Ian Campbell, IT director at British Energy, said he was not against social networking sites in principle, because they can allow staff to network and collaborate. But he said firms had to introduce mandatory reasonable use policies.

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